Military cuts could limit flyovers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The military flyover for Sunday's Daytona 500 may be a rarity at NASCAR events -- and sporting events in general -- moving forward.

Military spending cuts of 30 percent have forced the Air Force to trim flying hours by 18 percent. That will come from air shows, including the Thunderbirds aerobatic flying team that will perform prior to the "Great American Race."

Daytona International Speedway did not have its traditional flyover for the Rolex 24, Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races, and one is not planned for Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

There is a plan in place if automatic budget cuts known as "sequestration" are triggered on March 1 to suspend all Air Force flyovers immediately except for the Thunderbirds, which will be suspended on April 1.

"If sequestration kicks in, we'll be looking not to support any future NASCAR races," Wendy Varhegyi, the chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs, told ESPN.com.

Varhegyi said the suspension of flyovers would include all sports "at least through the end of the fiscal year [Sept. 30]."

Sequestration is a provision in budget law that will trigger major across-the-board spending cuts March 1 unless Congress agrees on an alternative.

"We do have the Thunderbirds on Sunday, but I know there are some significant challenges at all the other venues for their flyovers," DIS president Joie Chitwood said. "So that is a concern moving forward. We may not have flyovers for our sporting events."

Luke Air Force was not allowed to provide a flyover for the March 3 Sprint Cup race at Phoenix. Instead, a private company has provided the track a B-17 that is not a part of Air Force inventory.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway has an agreement with the Thunderbirds based nearby at Nellis Air Force Base for its March 10 Cup event. But Speedway Motorsports, which hosts 11 other Cup events in addition to the Vegas race, has a "tentative hold" on flyovers.

"That's as good as we can get from our military contacts at this point," said Marcus Smith, the president of SMI.

Military flyovers have been a part of NASCAR almost from the day the first race was held in 1949.

No definitive date exists for the first one, but long-time DIS historian Ed Roach reportedly said the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team flew over the old beach course as part of pre-race festivities in 1955.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who served in World War II, was a long-time promoter of patriotism in racing events.

Chitwood ordered additional fireworks to go off at the end of the National Anthem for Thursday's duels to replace the flyover.

"Our fans want finality," he said. "They expect the flyover, so I wanted to give them a little bit of something."

Smith, also the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway that traditionally puts on a military spectacular for the Memorial Day Weekend Coca-Cola 600, said it will be sad if NASCAR loses military flyovers.

"It's a great thing to celebrate our country and the military," Smith said. "My kids and a lot of people out there don't know what a National Anthem sounds like without a flyover. It's kind of part of it.

"It will be sad if it comes down to politicians that we don't have flyovers."

NASCAR officials said they are working with the military and tracks to find a compromise that will allow flyovers to remain at events.

"From our perspective, it's not done yet," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's vice president for race operations.